little green footballs

Must Read: The Breitbart Betrayals

Sun, Mar 20, 2016 at 6:28:51 pm

Chris Lehmann really captures the essential creepiness of Breitbart "News" in this piece for The Baffler: The Breitbart Betrayals.

The abject failure of a news organization to back up one of its own reporters was so shocking—and so poisonous to the already shaky morale of the Breitbart newsroom—that few paused to note the irony of Breitbart positioning itself as an authority on the interpretation of videotape. Breitbart’s Big Government section, after all, was once a self-standing site that was home to the first great pseudo-scoops of conservative agitprop auteur James O’Keefe, who persuaded some gullible ACORN workers that he was a pimp in need of federal grant money (even though he never, as he claimed, documented any illegal conduct on the part of the hapless ACORN staffers). Then, less successfully, O’Keefe and Breitbart trumpeted maliciously edited footage of Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod making allegedly derisive comments about white farmers. (Sherrod, who is African American, was actually summarizing stereotyped misconceptions about such people she might formerly have held, and had since outgrown—i.e., she was making the polar opposite point that O’Keefe and the Breitbart organization claimed she was crudely advancing. Sherrod was eventually fired, and sued Breitbart in a libel complaint that was settled out of court.)

In short, it says everything about the Breitbart M.O. that, when confronted with evidence of the blowback from its opportunistic, counter-journalistic alliance with the Trump campaign, the organization’s first impulse is neither to address the central issue head-on nor to call out the loathsome conduct of Trump flack Lewandowski, but rather to gin up the impression that their reporter wasn’t giving a reliable account of her own assault. This is more than simply blaming the victim—it’s framing the victim, as both an untrustworthy witness and noncredible reporter. It’s also entirely in the spirit of site founder Andrew Breitbart, once an eager student of right-wing smear-monger Matt Drudge. (Breitbart collaborated in the founding of the Huffington Post before launching his eponymous web publishing empire in 2007; he died in 2012 at the age of 43.)

And as is the case with every botched cover-up, things got worse as time went on. When Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro announced he was resigning due to his bosses’ handling of the Fields incident and because of the organization’s de facto status as a “Trump Pravda site,” the web site published a childish attack on Shapiro under the headline “Ben Shapiro Betrays Loyal Breitbart Readership in Pursuit of Fox News Contributorship.” 

The piece was promptly pulled from the site (but can be savored in all its petulant glory here); absurdly, Breitbart’s own in-house counsel Joel B. Pollak claimed authorship, even though it ran, pointedly, under the pseudonymous byline of Shapiro’s father, David Shapiro, another contributor to the site, and another writer who’s resigned from Breitbart in the wake of this clusterfuck. Piling absurdity on absurdity, Breitbart has lately claimed that the piece was never intended to be posted on the site—which of course raises the question of why, in that case, anyone should go to all the trouble of outfitting it with a compromising pseudonymous byline.

But this, too, is classic Breitbart-style agitprop: publish any scandalous material serving your pet agenda, then rapidly flee from the consequences of your action the moment any trouble surfaces.

For years I've been pointing out that the Breitbart "News" business model depends on encouraging the worst elements of the right wing base to get increasingly crazy, giving them license to unleash their inner racism and bigotry. It's reached the point now where almost every comment thread at Breitbart is filled with outright racial hatred, calls for genocide and deranged conspiracy theories.

It's nice to know I'm not the only one who's noticed it.